Not On Fire, But Burning, by Greg Hrbek

In an astounding feat of writing, Greg Hrbek has managed to humanize terrorism, hatred, and fear. Though there are speculative-almost-science-fiction aspects to this book, it is really the story of two boys growing up in circumstances that conspire against their conscience and better judgment. Dorian's parents think he's going crazy: lately he's been insisting that he had an older sister, Skylar, who died in the infamous bombing/meteor blast/unknown destructive event that decimated San Francisco on August 11 in the 2020s, but who never actually existed; not to mention his recent well-publicized Islamophobic vandalism of a local mosque. Karim, an opium-addicted orphan in the internment camp of Dakota, whose parents were killed in a government drone strike, is being adopted by an old veteran of the Gulf Wars and preparing to give his life to the Islamist cause in order to see his mother again in Paradise. When Dorian and Karim meet, they bring with them years of indoctrination and peer pressure, and with the weight of societal expectations bearing down on them, are lead to a moment when a crucial decision must be made. Will they make the right choices, and, in their situation, is there even a right choice to make?

This is a difficult book to read, mostly due to its content, but also partly because of the structure. We switch rapidly between characters and perspectives, sometimes in the third person, sometimes in the first, and occasionally even into parallel universes. It's well worth the effort, though, as Hrbek delves deeply into our national consciousness to expose the prevalent but underlying prejudice and hopelessness that leads us to curtail freedoms and rights in the name of security. This is an important book, a look at what we have become and what could be our future in this post-9/11 world.


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